Grief and Loss

There is nothing harder than losing a loved one. Only God can give you the strength, peace, and comfort necessary to handle the unbearable sadness and suffering you feel. I experienced this myself 11 years ago when I sat next to my dad’s hospice bed in his final days at home. In just 3 weeks time, my dad was hospitalized, diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer (as a nonsmoker), brought home with hospice care, and then passed away. It was a complete shock to me and my family. As my mom said at the time, it was a nightmare. 

My dad and I were alone in his room on this Saturday, June 11th when he said to me, “I am ready to go, Lisa.” He passed away 4 days later on June 15, 2011. By that time, I had learned to cling to God. Not lean on, cling. And in the month that followed, my Faith was renewed, as I experienced incredible strength, peace, and comfort despite incredible pain. All By The Grace Of God 🙏🏻

A Prayer on My Birthday

Rockford, Illinois © LISA S CLARK 2022

Dear God, Thank You so much for guiding, supporting, protecting, and loving me for another year. I couldn’t do Life without You. 

Thank You so much for my wonderful husband Terry, who sang to me moments after waking, and my dear 88 year old mother Ulla, who called and sang me a Swedish birthday song. My heart is so full.

In the midst of my blessings, God, I think about all those suffering in the world right now. I pray that You give strength, support, and healing to all those in need. AMEN.

💜 My Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 23:1-6 💜

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.”

“He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.”

“He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.” 

“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” 

“You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.”

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” AMEN.

I Knew Something Was Wrong

I’ve had a love for swimming since I was 4 years old. I learned how to swim in a pool in Pompano Beach, FL during one of our annual Florida family vacations. I later enjoyed using this pool at Forest Hills Country Club in Rockford, IL where my parents have been members since 1980. I was on the FHCC swim team and basically lived there during the summers in middle school, high school, and college. (Photo courtesy of Forest Hills Country Club)

Fast forward 20+ years to July 2016, and I am using the pool at the Princeton Gym in Madison, WI. I was just starting to get back to swimming laps, and I noticed that my left arm felt heavy and numb. I told my husband that something was wrong, and that was the beginning of a very scary time for us. My MS diagnosis came on August 26, 2016.

It is common for people that receive a life-altering diagnosis to go through a grieving process. It takes time to accept your new “normal” and to heal from the medical trauma that you endured. I am very thankful that I’ve had the resources, support, and education I need to adapt to my life with Multiple Sclerosis. I realize that not everyone has that, and I don’t take it for granted.

Before MS Diagnosis

Vail, Colorado © LISA S CLARK 2022

This photo was taken in 2003 when I attended the Kercher Family Reunion in Vail, Colorado. I had recently passed my Board Exams and had become a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Wisconsin. 

When I look at myself here, I can see the absolute fatigue (mental, emotional, and physical) that I felt behind that smile. Fatigue is the most common symptom of Multiple Sclerosis, and mine started in college, along with dizziness, vertigo, and depression. I didn’t know these were all warning signs of MS. I just felt that life was so damn hard all the time. 

I crashed out in 2006 after 3 years of clinical practice. That’s no surprise considering the fact that stress is one of biggest triggers for MS symptoms. For the next few years, I tried to pivot to a new specialty in Industrial Organizational Psychology, but as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t regain my strength.

As my dad said to me in 2010, “it’s strange, Lisa … it’s like you make progress, but then suddenly sink in quicksand.” My dad passed away in 2011, and I was diagnosed in 2016. He would be very sad about my MS, as my mom is, but it does finally explain why I was always struggling. 

The MS diagnosis came when I temporarily lost use of my left hand and arm in August 2016. I had multiple MRIs done that showed lesions in my brain and spine which is hallmark MS. I also had multiple blood tests done to rule out other illnesses. It is a devastating diagnosis to receive, but in some ways, it has been a relief. For the past 5+ years, I have been able to re-examine my life, and it all makes sense to me now.

Holidays are Bittersweet

Rockford, Illinois © LISA S CLARK 2021

Many of us struggle with loss during the holidays, especially now during the pandemic. This is notably true when it’s a parent that has passed on. This is my husband and his mother, Ann Clark, who died on Thanksgiving Day in 2017. My own father, Edward Kercher, died in 2011, a few days before Father’s Day. It doesn’t get any easier as the years pass, as much as you wish it did.

Me & My Mom

Rockford, Illinois © LISA S CLARK 2021

My mom, Ulla Kercher, is an amazing woman. At 88 years old, she just moved to a small home in a senior living community in my hometown, Rockford, IL. She has been a widow for 10+ years and had maintained two houses after my dad passed away, one in Rockford and one in San Diego, CA. My dad would be so proud of her and delighted that she is doing well with an abundance of support from family and friends. 

I was with my dad when he had hospice care at home in 2011. One special moment I will never forget … my dad was lying in the hospital bed, with my mom and I by his side. He had been failing quickly since his terminal cancer diagnosis the week prior. Suddenly, he spoke softly, saying to my mom, “There are no words to describe how much I love you.” He passed away a few days later. They had just celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary three weeks prior.

Proud Wife

Green Bay, Wisconsin © LISA S CLARK 2021

My husband Terry Clark just had his best sales year ever. He absolutely loves his job which draws on his natural talents and abilities. At 55 years old, he has definitely hit his stride. We are forever grateful to God for giving him this work opportunity 7 years ago, which brought him to Madison, WI where I was living at the time. We moved to Green Bay, WI 4 years ago so that he could help build an office and service area here.

Strength

Pompano Beach, Florida © LISA S CLARK 2021

You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.

It was 5 years ago that I started having a strange numbness in my left arm and hand. I had just started swimming laps at my gym, and I knew something was really wrong. By the first week of August, I couldn’t do anything with that arm and hand. After multiple doctor visits, blood tests, X-rays, and MRIs, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis on August 26th. It was the biggest shock of my life. 

Looking back now, I realize that I started having MS symptoms in college, such as vertigo, fatigue, and depression. But I didn’t know it was MS at the time. It took paralysis of my arm and hand in 2016 to get my attention and into an MRI machine that showed lesions in my brain and spine. Thankfully, by the Grace of God, function has returned to my arm and hand, and I have been stable on medication since that time.  

But I never know what tomorrow brings. And that is where the strength comes in. It is terrifying having Multiple Sclerosis. So I lean on God for all my strength, joy, hope, and peace. And because of that, I THRIVE. This photo is me at 17 years old when I was vacationing in Pompano Beach, Florida in 1984. For me it captures the determination I feel to face all the challenges in my life going forward.

The Gift of Crisis

My crisis started the first week of August in 2016. Within a few days’ time, I lost function in my left hand and forearm. Just like that. No warning. Boom. All the things I took for granted and did on a daily basis, I could no longer do. I couldn’t type, hold a plate, wash my hair, tie my shoes, open a jar, hold the steering wheel. It was terrifying. The medical appointments and MRIs that followed were equally terrifying. By the end of the month, I had a diagnosis. Multiple Sclerosis.

I spent the month of August in constant prayer, seeking God for strength and courage. I can honestly tell you that by the time I received the diagnosis, I accepted it gracefully. Was I extremely sad and scared? Absolutely. But I accepted the results because I knew by Faith that nothing just happens. That this was God’s will for my life.

Since that time, I have regained 100% function in my left hand and forearm. I still have the tingling sensation, but that is a minor inconvenience. The first gift I received from this crisis is that I no longer take my body for granted. Typing this post right now with both hands is such a blessing to me. Given there is no cure for MS and that it is a progressive disease, there is no telling what parts of my body will be affected and when.

Which brings me to the second gift of this crisis. If you do research on MS you quickly find out that it’s all a big mystery. They don’t know what causes it, they don’t know exactly why the medications help, and everyone experiences the disease differently. So basically, you are forced to accept the fact (that we humans try so hard to ignore) that life is unpredictable. You are forced to take life one day at a time, to pace yourself, to set priorities, and be adaptive. And this has brought great clarity and focus to my life.

The third gift of this crisis is that it strengthened my relationships with my husband, family, and friends. I found out on a much deeper level how much people loved me, valued me, and cared about me. I tend to be the strong one in a group, always taking care of others. It was very healing for me to be vulnerable and allow others to take care of me. I was surprised by people’s compassion and experienced incredibly sweet moments with my loved ones.

The last and most important gift of this crisis is that it has brought me closer to God. I know with 100% certainty that I could not live with Multiple Sclerosis without Him in my life. He gives me the strength, peace, joy, and courage I need to move forward in my life. And for that, I am eternally grateful. I leave you with a Bible verse that has been on my desk since the day of my diagnosis. “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear. I will help you.'” Isaiah 41:13